Restaurant Review - Fuel injection
Biscuits-and-gravy brunch worth a pit stop at Tenth and Myrtle
Brunch is the riskiest meal by which to judge a new restaurant. Cooks are apt to be badly hung over and bleeding from the eyes. Third-string servers fill in at the last minute. Recipes prepared but once or twice a week may lack finesse.
In the case of Tenth and Myrtle, the sleek newcomer in the Post Parkside development on Tenth Street near Piedmont Avenue, I'd also heard specific brunch-time horror stories — undrinkable coffee, plaster casseroles and so on.
Still, the Midtown location was convenient for meeting a friend. The posted menu promised novelty without silliness.
Tenth and Myrtle's brick-and-glass exterior could hide a dentist's office. Signs are hard to read. The interior is coldly, industrially modern — avocado walls with black, brown, gray and maroon accents, tile-look fabric, Mod-generic furniture and two levels connected by a flying staircase with dull steel railings. The street-floor bar (there's another upstairs) opens onto the sidewalk in nice weather. If you've been in the lobby of a newly built Ramada Inn in Kissimmee or Ocala lately, you've seen it all before.
Once seated, we were showered with attention by staffers before further doubts could surface. The waiter was all smiles and knew what he had to sell. The coffee was hot, the orange juice sweet. I spotted a cook arriving with a box of fresh bakery rolls. He looked bright-eyed and sober.
Three tables were occupied at 10:05 on a Sunday morning. Nor was the enormous restaurant ever more than half full during two subsequent visits.
Give me the wide-open spaces, I decided, once I dug into my order of Biscuits and Gravy the Myrtle Way ($7). I'm a sucker for well-prepared trucker cuisine. This hefty combination of split biscuit topped with cream gravy, plus thick-sliced bacon, two fried eggs and a mound of freshly fried hash-brown potatoes provides enough high-test fuel to get most Peterbilt chauffeurs from here to Kansas City. I have to admit I ate the whole thing — fresh eggs, lean bacon, spuds, gravy and all.
Brioche French toast may have little to do with genuine, eggy brioche ($5.95). It looked like standard, thick-sliced supermarket bread to me. Still, it was egg-dipped, grilled, surrounded by blackberries the size of golf balls and washed with maple syrup. The French toast also disappeared fast.
Thus surprised and satisfied, I returned 10 days later for a business lunch. Sitting upstairs, we started with vegetable spring rolls, described on the menu as "crisp." Arranged on shredded cabbage and cut on the bias to let the heat escape, the rolls were about as crisp as warm tennis shoes. Lacking flavor themselves, they were accompanied by a dynamite honey-sesame dipping sauce. At $4.25 a pair, the rolls are scandalously overpriced. You can get twice as good for half as much on Buford Highway's Chambodia strip.
Ordering main courses, we asked the waitress how the "'Smashed Reuben on Rye" is prepared.
"The chef sits on it," she answered without missing a beat. When I stared back at her, she did a double-take. "Just kidding, ha ha. We replaced him with a machine."
We ordered the Reuben anyway. Cooked French-style in a grill-press, it turned out to be needlessly greasy, moderately crisp and definitely hot ($7.95). The portion of corned beef inside was modest. A side of potato salad was essentially skin-on, highly seasoned mashed potatoes, served cold. Yawn.
Tandoori salmon salad combines lightly spiced, pan-seared fish, iceberg and romaine leaves, candied walnuts, croutons, blue cheese dressing and — get this — cold couscous ($8.95). Flavor- and texture-wise, the bland couscous has nothing to do with either tandoori fish or lettuce. Apples, promised on the menu but missing, might have pulled the conception together, but I doubt it. In any case, fish, nuts and cheese work well enough together once the couscous is pushed aside.
The score even at 1-1, I returned for a third meal, dinner. We began with fried calamari in crisp, relatively greaseless tempura-style crusts with a cheese-tomato dip ($5.25). Black pepper was the most prominent flavor. We ended with a dessert the waiter enthusiastically referred to as "Chocolate yum-yum" and described as a divine combination of Oreo Cookie crust, chocolate cheesecake and chocolate sauce ($6.50).
Yum-yum it wasn't. The crust tasted stale — but not much like stale Oreos. The filling reminded me of chemicals. The sauce tasted like Hershey's syrup piped right out of the plastic bottle.
In between we slogged through overcooked lamb shank on what was said to be creamy polenta — but which tasted like Quaker instant grits ($17.95) and half a small, overcooked chicken with shrimp-apple stuffing — the latter with a flavor like that of Cherry Coke ($13.95).
There are upsides. Complimentary valet parking is offered at night. The staff is unfailingly upbeat and fast moving. The restaurant feels clean.
But those are not reasons to hit the brakes when passing Tenth and Myrtle on Mondays through Fridays. Unless it's weekend brunch-time, just keep on trucking.